Editor's Note: This is the latest installment of The Odds Are Good, a semi-regular column by Heather Hansman about real life stories in the ski world and things like beards, living in shacks, and getting adopted by a ski town.
My father is in town for 48 hours. For his one evening, I convinced him to go night skiing. We drove up Snoqualmie Pass in a downpour and crossed our fingers the temperatures would drop. He changed into his ski gear in the car, and we headed out into the just-below-freezing snain as the lights came on.
When my dad first helped me latch my hands around the rope tow, I don't think he knew how deeply skiing would take root for me. In college, he bought me a telemark setup and, in the dark before my first tour, he helped me cut my skins—wobbly edged and uneven—under the dome light of his car. When I moved to the mountains to submerse myself fulltime in the uphill-downhill world of skiing, my dad would plan work meetings in Denver around storms and drive up I-70 to crash on my couch like one of my low-budget friends. He'd take my roommates out to dinner to alleviate the weirdness of couch dad.
There was a point, sometime around then, when I became a better skier than he was. It felt odd to worry after a few minutes when he didn’t show up at the bottom. But he was always tougher. After I got soft and would only ski for a few hours, he'd still be at the lift early on scratchy, low temp days, PBJ in his pocket, ready to burn bell-to-bell.
You have three lobes in each of your lungs. Last October, they found a pea-sized nodule in one of the lobes in my dad's right lung. In December, they sliced out a whole lobe to make sure they got all of the cancer. I flew east for Thanksgiving and stayed, not caring that the first storms were starting to stack up in the Cascades. By the end of the first week after surgery, he was up and walking. Each day, he'd try to push it one more block. The doctors told him he could move, as long as he didn't fall and rupture the stitches in his chest. By Christmas he was back on snow, ignoring their advice.
But he has slowed. It's not necessarily a bad thing—his tele turns have become smoother and rounder—but you can hear a rasp in his lungs when he breathes.
The first time I realized my dad could get scared was in a whiteout. I was working at A-Basin, and he tacked a couple of days of skiing on to another work trip. We dropped in to the steep bowl off the backside just as the clouds socked in, milk-pale and impenetrable. Above treeline, without anything for contrast, it was easy to get vertigo, and we had to turn by feel, hoping we wouldn't accidentally ski off a little cliffband. We traversed hesitantly, trying to pick our way to the bottom, not quite sure if we were going downhill or up. "I'm a little out of my comfort zone here," he said, shaky, when we stopped for a second to brace ourselves against the howl of the wind.
Now, when he is not as fast or as strong as he used to be, he is quick to find a reason: the light is flat and the snow is heavy. I know what he's doing because it's the kind of thing that I do, too, when I'm scared and don't want to say it.
I am not totally sure how to deal with both how to treat my dad as he slows down and with the fact that at some point he will slow down completely. I think that's part of why I forced him up to Alpental, even though it was sleeting and we didn't have much time.
Your parents, or whoever taught you to ski, will stop at some point. And before it reaches that point, there's not a lot you can say besides, "I love you. Thanks for coming with me tonight."
So last night, we just went skiing. "I can't see shit," he said, a layer of rime coating his goggles. For the first time in my life, he was the one who called it.